When the MBTA Transit Police set up shop in the Downtown Crossing T station for three hours on a recent Monday, officers ticketed 51 riders attempting to pass through gates without paying. That’s about twice as many as the agency had expected. The exercise highlighted the need for increased crackdowns within T stations to nab fare evaders, but also to send a strong message to those who regularly abuse the system. The transit police were smart to publicize the successful “blitz” over social media.
The effort comes just weeks after the Legislature wisely raised the penalties for fare evasion, from a flat $15 to $50 for first time offenders. Evaders will now be penalized $100 for their second offenses and $300 for their third. In addition, those who fail to pay their fines will have their driver’s licenses revoked within 30 days. Before the change, those who didn’t pay fines only risked being blocked from renewing their licenses, which means some didn’t face consequences for up to five years.
Even after stiffening its fines, Boston’s deterrents are still milder than those in comparable cities. Evaders in Portland face fines of $175 after their first offense. Other municipalities force evaders to show up for court dates or face criminal charges. That may be too harsh for first-time offenders, but the Legislature still must find new ways to ensure that riders who don’t have a driver’s license — a well-represented group on the T — pay their fines.
No one should be under the illusion that reducing fare evasion will fix the T’s budget woes. The tens of millions of dollars it stands to make up annually pales when compared to the T’s $9 billion long-term debt. But as long as the blitzes result in a high number of tickets, they pay for themselves. And they shake up a culture that has tolerated fare evasion for too long.